We were able to make it to the liquor store before it closed, and we sent Noah because he had a fake ID, and he looks trustworthy. He got us one of those big plastic bottles of vodka—one with a fake Russian name and some communist logo. We didn’t have a mixer so we did it straight from the bottle, which explains how we got so lit.
We got lost on some dirt roads for a while out by Box Elder trying to find the reservoir. It was near that Air Force deal they have out there—we drove past the sign a few times, maybe they were different signs. I’m not sure when we finally found the lake, but it took a long time. It’s really hidden back there. Shea was driving us that night, but he shouldn’t have been the way he was drinking. And even though the night felt warm, the water looked frozen, like black ice. The girls lay down next to each other on the beach, as if they were getting ready to tan in the moonlight, and the stars cut huge white circles over the water. Shea stripped naked, let out a whoop and splashed into the shallows.
“Anybody else want to swim with me?” he yelled into the darkness.
None of the girls seemed interested in swimming anymore, but I don’t like seeing people do things alone. It’s a carry over from when I was a foster kid and we all of us had to do everything alone. So I told Shea that I wanted to swim, even thought I didn’t really care, and I got naked too. Then we were out there in the dark together, naked and yelling. The water wasn’t cold either, it looked cold, but it wasn’t because it was summer and everything was warm. When we got back to the beach, everyone was right where we left them except Noah and Sapphire; Rachel told us they were getting busy somewhere, which was sort of fucked because Sapphire had been all over Shea for the last month, and she was sort of his girl.
“I am going to kill that limp dick,” Shea kept saying, which I thought was a funny expression for that particular situation, but it was one of his go-tos and he didn’t mean anything specific by it.
Then Shea started rushing up the beach and cursing. Rachel and Cary were a little freaked out by the whole affair. I was freaked out too. Shea doesn’t usually get violent, and I was worried what would happen if he found Noah, and so I went after him. We were both naked still because we were too drunk to deal with our clothes. I tried to put on my shoes, but I couldn’t focus with all the excitement. I was having a great time.
I chased Shea about a hundred yards down the beach when we started to see the light coming up over a nearby ridge. At first I thought it was some kind of night sky thing I’d never seen before, like the northern lights. It was like a wall—a huge pillar of white light that extended across the entire hillside. As soon as we realized what it was, I yelled back to Rachel and Cary and they came up the beach.
They brought our shorts, and we tried putting them on, but it was too hard because we were so lit. Shea actually fell down and cut his shoulder, eventually we gave up and left the shorts behind.
Shea led me and Rachel and Cary over the little ridge, toward the light. We climbed down a bluff about a hundred yards back from the water, and then further below—like maybe fifty feet down—we saw it.
It was a mansion. We never would have found it in the daytime because it was kind of wedged in between these hills, and there’s no way you could see it from the lake. But the place gave off so much light. The yard had these wide green lawns and trees and bushes like a golf course and little cottages and outbuildings. It was an entire complex. And way down below at the far edge of the lawn through all the grass and fences was an Olympic sized swimming pool.
It made me feel strange to think that someone actually lived here. I sort of didn’t like it. Rich people and expensive things have always made me nervous. I never had any of that growing up and I never learned how to act natural around it, but Shea grew up with a real family and money, so he started climbing down the rock towards where the ground dropped off, and I didn’t want to yell after him because someone might be down there.
“I bet nobody’d mind if we took a dip in that pool,” said Shea.
“No way” said Cary, “a house this nice must have alarms, maybe even security guards.”
“I’m not sure it is a house,” I said. “Might be something with the Air Force, like for the officers or something.” It felt too secret even for that, but I wasn’t really able to articulate myself.
“Don’t be a limp dick,” Shea said. “It’s just a house, man. And there are no alarms. Don’t be scared. We just gotta find a way down there.”
“It doesn’t feel like a house,” I said. “Who’d want to live way out here anyway? And look at those fences.”
“Kevin Costner has a place out here,” Shea said, “and Val Kilmer. Probably lots of other famous people we don’t know about. All kinds of these secret mansions.”
The more I thought about it, the less sense it made, but I was drunk and I wasn’t thinking well, so I followed Shea around the bluff until the pool was below us. We all stood there looking down at it. I was watching Shea to see what would do. The rock wall dropped straight off into the grounds and the pool looked close, it was right on the edge of the yard.
“Let’s go,” said Rachel after a minute. “Look how much time we wasted, and we can’t even climb down—and we gotta find Sapphire and Noah.”
“I’m gonna jump,” Shea said. “That pool’s an easy shot.” He’d completely forgotten about Noah and Sapphire—it was like Rachel hadn’t said anything.
Cary laughed at him, “That’s so stupid. Nobody could make that jump. You’d die.”
“Even if you made it,” said Rachel, “you don’t even know how deep the water is. It might be shallow.”
“I bet I can make it,” he said, “and I ain’t gonna die.”
The girls laughed at him like he was making a joke, but thinking back on that moment, I guess knew he was serious, but my mind was elsewhere. I could only think about the house and what to make of it. The place had me in this trance, trying to figure out what it was. It reminded me of those miniature models. I felt like I could almost reach out and pick it up. I wanted it so bad it made me nervous. This house was what I’d always wanted ever since I was a kid sleeping in someone else’s bed, listening to someone else’s dark house—a place where it never gets dark and no one is ever alone.
We all heard Shea hit the ground, and that brought me back to reality, sort of a crunch. The sound probably came from his legs breaking, because when he tried to get up, he just rolled over. We could hear Shea moaning down there, but I knew there was nothing we could do. I reached for my phone because I don’t know why, but then I realized I was naked still, which for some reason was funny to me at the time, and I started laughing. And once I started laughing I couldn’t stop.
Kaj Anderson-Bauer’s stories have appeared in The Scrivener Creative Review, Thin Air Magazine, Squawk Back, and other places. He lives in Arkansas.